The Rosettis at Tate Britain
The Rosettis were a family of thinkers and artists who had a large impact on 19th century London. Their father was an Italian revolutionary exile and the four siblings grew up in a creative household. This exhibition concentrates on poet Christina (1830-1894), poet/painter Gabriel (1828-1882) and his wife Elizabeth née Siddall.
The show opens with loops of Christina’s poetry being read and excerpts on the walls. Through the rooms we see their early art and their influences: there is a notebook of William Blake’s that Gabriel purchased for little money before the renowned mystic gained any reputation, and early artwork showing influences from Goethe’s Faust, Edgar Allen Poe and Dante Alighieri, whose first name Gabriel adopted. Theirs was a world steeped in myth, romance and mysticism of their own creation.
This is a dense exhibition, with over 150 works on show. The splendour of Gabriel’s later paintings is enhanced by jewel-toned walls, with one room even hanging a previously unrealised wallpaper design of his specially made for the exhibition. There are luscious and overblown portraits, as to be expected from the Pre-Raphaelites (of whom Gabriel was a founding member), Venus Verticordia (1868) being a particularly beautiful example and The Beloved (1865-6) another. The paintings are rich with colour, sensuous gazes and reimagined mythology. Watercolours and drawings by Elizabeth, which have not been seen in 30 years, are also on display. She was a collaborator with Gabriel, as well as his doomed muse (dying aged 32 of a laudanum overdose).
Many seem to have a problem with the Pre-Raphaelites, accusing the artists of sentimentality, but the Victorians’ close proximity with death meant they held beliefs that are easy to scoff at and dismiss now. The attractiveness – or lack thereof – of the women has also annoyed some, with “lantern-jawed” being thrown around. But this is essentially one man’s vision: it won’t appeal to everyone. As an exhibition, The Rosettis is well-researched and there is a lot to see, including a projection of Ken Russell’s 1967 film, Dante’s Inferno (about Gabriel and Elizabeth’s relationship), which provides an unexpected conclusion as Oliver Reed’s magnificent face looms over flames in a loop.
The Rosettis is at Tate Britain from 6th April until 24th September 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.